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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
C/N version below - please help me solve this mystery


Wall of text, full-detail version. Hey, gurus. I could use some extra input in trying to diagnose an issue with my 2003 WRX. I recently picked it up from Texas, where it was opensource tuned for stage 2 93 octane. The car is now in Colorado, where emissions requires use of the factory downpipe, so as soon as I got it home, I switched out the downpipe, and flashed to economy mode before driving it to a Colorado tuner the next day for a custom Stage 1+ tune. Thus far, the car had run well at idle, under partial throttle, and at WOT.

Upon taking the car in for the tune, the shop discovered a minor leak at the uppipe and refused to tune without fixing the leak. I agreed to let them do this work before tuning, along with swapping out the short ram (SPT) that was on the car with a stock intake, install 1-step colder plugs (tuner's recommendation), replace my old MAF with a fresh one, and replace a kinked PCV hose in an attempt to clear up a PO444 code indicating a PCV system issue.

This is where things get frustrating, and leave me stumped with what to do next - after all of this work was done, I received a message from the shop that the work was all done, but that the car was failing the smoke test with a significant leak at the passenger side valve cover gasket. He also claimed that my spark plug holes were doubling as small engine intakes, and that the car was drawing in unmetered air through the valve cover gasket and spark plug holes, then quoted around $2500 to replace the gaskets and all engine seals before they would tune the car.

At this point, I decided to be done working with this shop, and went to pick up my car. Upon picking it up, it is now idling VERY poorly, and stutters under throttle, leaving me terrified to drive it. The shop is claiming that by fixing other things, the valve cover gasket leak and intake through spark plug holes is probably emphasizing itself more now - I'm simply struggling to understand how the car ran beautifully with a myriad of issues, and is now running like absolute crap with just one. Switched out the new MAF with old to see if that fixed the idle - nope.

Thinking my next step is to switch the new spark plugs out with the old ones they replaced, but wanted to consult the forums before digging in with more intensive work.

C/N version:
-Bought a car in Texas
-Stage 2 w/opensource tune
-Brought to Colorado
-Switched to stock (mostly)
-Car is running great
-Take in for Stage 1+ protune in CO
-Shop won't tune due to exhaust leak
-Repairs leak, replaces plugs, replaces MAF, switches to stock intake
-Shop still won't tune, but now because of valve cover gasket leak
-Shop claims the spark plug holes are drawing unmetered air because of gasket leak
-Car now runs like absolute crap

Only mods currently on car are a Perrin turbo inlet and Cobb 3 port EBCS. Car is still throwing PO444 code. Also mysteriously, the car isn't showing a misfire code, despite running like crap and sounding like it's misfiring.

Help. Me.
 

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The plug seals against the head. Not against the valve cover.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
That's part of my confusion - I'm trying to understand any way that the car would be drawing air through spark plug holes, unless the heads were cracked (not the case) or a plug was just totally missing. The tuner sent an email stating "The car is still failing smoke test on valve covers. Your spark plug holes are doubling as small intakes."
 

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Unless I'm mistaken the only way you'll draw air from the valve area is if there is a valve seat and seal issue.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Welp, ended up fixing the severe stuttering/drivability issue by replacing the plugs. Turned out they were improperly gapped by the shop that did the pre-tuning work. Still confused about their explanation that the engine is drawing air through the spark plug holes, but thankful to have the car running properly again.
 

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Their explanation doesn't make any sense to me. If the car runs properly now then there is nothing to fix I suppose?
 

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I would not go back to that shop. The only way spark plug holes act as an intake is if the plugs are not tightened down properly with a good gasket.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Definitely will not be back. It's so surprising, as this is a highly reputable shop amongst Colorado tuners. Thankfully, they are re-crediting me for the botched spark plug work. Don't know if this will shed more light on what the shop was claiming, but this was the tuner's response to my reaching out with frustration about the car running poorly after their work.

"I have not looked at the car but your mechanic let me know that the smoke test was a fail. We expect to see at least ten inches of water with regard to pressure when preparing a car. He says your car only had 5 inches of water which indicates a gross leak. That leak was traced to valve covers and therefore the car is actually sucking air through the leak instead of through the MAF sensor. I can't tune a car like that but when it is fixed I can."
 
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